Let’s Start a HouseFIRE!

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You already know about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early). Heck, you might even know about LeanFIRE and FatFIRE — retiring with the expectation of spending <$40,000/year or >$100,000/year, respectively. You probably even know about CoastFIRE! Well, allow me to add more fuel to the FIRE! This post is all about “HouseFIRE”, and why you should care.

So what is HouseFIRE? Simply defined, it’s the stage you reach when you can retire from work just by utilizing your available real estate for money. That link has loads of tips, but if you’re a Vancouverite, you might have to get more extreme. Since I wrote this post, Vancouver’s average rent for a 2-bedroom unit has ballooned to $3,130, and landing even 1,000 square feet for that is near impossible! If you want to attempt HouseFIRE, you’ll need actual space. For that to happen, high-cost-of-living areas won’t work great, but nearby neighbourhoods might. You may find yourself with lots of space for the same housing cost just one town over! Here’s how I do it.

My $170,000 99-year leasehold is paid off, and it’s mere minutes from Vancouver. I have it until 2087, and the total from strata fees and property taxes amounts to $650/month (which I know is high). It’s a 3-bedroom condo, but one bedroom is currently an office for my photography business. I have the master bedroom, and a roommate lives in the remaining room. His rent covers the $650 I mentioned. My plan now is to relocate my office to our underutilized living room, and I’m turning the old office back into a bedroom I can rent out. When that’s finalized in March, I’ll be collecting $600/month on both rooms for $1,200 total. My strata obligations will most likely be near $700 by then, but I’m still looking at $500+ in profit! If I could live like “A” did, I’d be HouseFIREd! (“A” was living on $700/month, and paying $200 for rent. $500 for her other expenses covered it all!)

There are even people in my family who could be HouseFIREd. Mom, for instance, lives alone in a 4-bedroom townhome. If she took the master room for herself and rented the other three rooms to students, that could mean $1,800/month! If they chip in for utilities, that reduces her expenses even more! I think $1,800/month is perfect to live on. That’s about in line with what I spend now!

This is a great strategy for empty nesters. Instead of downsizing, they can maintain the value in their appreciating property, and have a source of extra income. Instead of thinking about retirement in just dollars, consider HouseFIRE! Can you retire on square footage alone? I bet some of you already can. Do it.

Space Is Your Greatest Asset

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Everywhere you look now, space is at a premium. Parking a car in Vancouver for three hours can set you back $21. Fifty square feet of storage in Toronto can cost you $193/month. According to Rentseeker, my 3-bedroom in Richmond would rent for $1,644! Somehow, we’ve all just accepted that space is expensive, even though the price for renting that space is often flat-out stupid! What if we decided to end the madness? What if, instead of being gouged for square footage, we found a way to make our existing space work for us instead of the other way around? Well, listed below are a few ways you can cash in. You don’t need to live in a mansion either. I’m just a regular guy who recognized an opportunity. You might realize there’s been a cash cow in your backyard all along.

First, the obvious: Get roommates. You don’t have to live alone. I’ve done the math, and by March 2018, I’ll be back to “no rent and no bills” because of what I make from them. I’m sacrificing my home office to make it work, but not really. I’m just moving my office to my currently underutilized living room. To get even more advanced, consider getting into Airbnb if you have a spare room! Here’s an article about it. For the nitty-gritty, here’s another! If that all sounds too stressful, rent to friends because you can still make extra cash in unique circumstances. We still “put people up in our storage closet for about $300/month”, and my friends all know they can come to me if things ever get weird, like if they suddenly get evicted or a relationship splits up. This was my first step. If you’re willing to bring other people into your space, you can profit immensely.

In another example, this book describes how its author uses an MRP (Multi-unit Residential Property) to live rent-free. He even advocates going as extreme as buying a fourplex, renting out three units, and living in only one! In 1999 though, he bought his first duplex and started paying into it. The property was $109,000 in Calexico, CA and his monthly payment was around $900. He lived in one apartment and rented the other for $800/month. That $800 plus his $100 “rent” went straight into home equity! I suspect he’s doing quite well now. This is common and basic optimization of real estate. You probably know a bunch of people doing something similar right now.

I also discovered you don’t need a full room or apartment available to make money. When my dad died, I sold my van, took over his car, and now my parents’ two-car garage in New Westminster has one space open. (I live a few towns over in Richmond.) Remember how expensive storage can be? Well, I know someone desperately in need of storage space. Instead of gouging them though, I’m letting them use that space for $50/month. It’s slightly less convenient for everyone because I’d have to accompany them whenever they need access, but they’d save (and I’d earn) hundreds! It’s win-win because I get to profit, they get to save, and I’ve effectively done a favour for them! It’s great!

Live near an event space? Here in Vancouver, near our local fairgrounds, residents open up their driveways for people to park. Last I checked, the fair itself charges $20 for parking, so let’s say we charge $15/car. Well, if you have a property width of 14.5 metres and a large enough backyard, YOU CAN PARK FIVE VEHICLES LEGALLY. $75/day for a month? That’s over $2,000! Everyone should be doing something like this! You can even monetize a small patch of dirt on the sunny side of your building! I’d gladly pay $50 for a garden space during the summer if I didn’t already have one. We all have access to space that’s “ours”, so let’s use it!

These are just a few examples, but every bit of space in your home should have a job. Let it make money for you. I’m a few thousand richer every year because I abide by that. Can you do the same and live rent-free? Tell us in the comments.

Roommate #2.5, or Why “K” Plans to Live in His Van

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If you’re willing to look at renting from a weirder angle, you could save about $1,200/month like “K”. This is how.

FYI: This is about more than van-living. Read on.

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First, my situation: My place has housed three people before, but since we’re now back down to two, we’ve readopted a revolving door policy for friends to come and go as they please. When we do this, we generally have one- or two-month arrangements and put people up in our storage closet for about $300/month. Since our guests only sleep in there and are free to use the rest of our apartment anytime, this is actually a lot nicer than it sounds. We have multiple TVs, a fully stocked kitchen, 1.5 bathrooms, and even an office! As proof of concept, we actually have a guest with us next month – “J”. She’s looking for a more permanent space with her boyfriend, but until she finds the perfect place, she doesn’t want to sign another lease. We make a little bit of rent money, and she has the flexibility to keep looking. Everybody wins!

Our friend “K” is gonna win hard in a few months too. Unfortunately, his current situation is a real money pit. In his own words: im paying 1375 plus hydro and internet which bring it to 1500. my plan is to sell my jeep for 14000 and get a 2007 Mercedes sprinter for the same amount roughly. i figure it will cost about 1000 to convert it into a living space, since it will just be a bed, side table and closet cause i dont need to have a kitchen or toilet. [More on this in a second.] ive lived in a honda crv(which was fucking terrible) then a jeep cherokee which was a bit better. then [“R”] and i lived in a mini van that we built a bed frame in and put a double matress with curtains and a battery system to power fans and our laptops without using the vans battery. also we had a solar panel on the roof to charge the electric system”.

Yup, he’s planning on living in a van. But wait! It’s actually WAY better than it sounds! Why? HE GETS TO USE OUR PLACE AS A HOMEBASE TOO! And he’s not sleeping in our storage closet, meaning I can still have short-term guests! WTF, RIGHT?!?

I should probably back up and explain. When “K’s” lease is up at his $1,375/month apartment (that costs him $1,500 after bills), we have an arrangement set up. He will, essentially, become our Roommate #2.5. His plan involves sleeping in his van, but he’ll also be living with us, using our kitchen, bathroom, and office space during the day. He’ll be paying ~$300/month, and in return, he’ll have access to all our amenities, like Internet, running water, and an actual goddamn mailing address. He won’t have any real bills! On paper, he lives here. In reality, the van is home, and because of that, he has the flexibility to take his home wherever he might need to go, whether it’s a job site or a vacation destination! Also, THIS FREES UP ~$1,200/MONTH OF HIS MONEY! Over just one year, HE SAVES ~$14,400 AND I MAKE ~$3,600! Again, everybody wins! It’s like a sort of “friend economy”. Instead of paying strangers for their services or housing, pay FRIENDS for what THEY can provide. Money and favours keep circulating amongst the people you care about, and everyone becomes richer because of it! Friend Economy 101!

Obviously, this really only works for young, single people like “K”. You can’t raise a family in a van. It’s hard to argue with the savings for people who can make this work though! In Vancouver, where a 1-bedroom goes for $1,900, having access to an apartment’s amenities while sleeping in your own space for ~$300 is a steal! Of course, finding opportunities like this isn’t gonna be a walk in the park. This is just one isolated example of a millennial living unconventionally, and saving shitloads because of it.

When possible, use and rely on your friends. “K” found cheap housing. “J” found a temporary place to stay until she lines up the perfect home. I found extra rent money. It’s actually ridiculous things like this don’t happen more often. If we all functioned better as a real community, maybe we’d all be a few thousand richer.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in. I’d sleep in a van too if it meant being able to invest an extra $1,200/month. Would you?

Throw Your Shit Away

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Can you live with only 100 things? What about dressing yourself with only 33 items for 3 months? Minimalism is in, and experiments like The 100 Thing Challenge and Project 333 are popping up on lifestyle blogs everywhere. These challenges are a bit too extreme for little ol’ stuff-loving me, but I made a few notes and started taking back my space. I now throw out a minimum of one thing a day.

Since my girlfriend moved in, we’ve needed to make more room. There are now three people living in our 1,000 square feet, and just to fit us all comfortably, a lot of shit had to go. In the past month, we’ve thrown out old pillows, workout equipment, countless DVDs, unplayed PS4 games, posters, dishes, multiple boxes of unnecessary documents, and right now, we’re boxing up old glassware we’ll give to a friend. I look in my office closet now, and I see SPACE. I haven’t seen that much space since I moved in! A new addiction was born.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I say 1,000 square feet? A realization dawned on me: With all our crap everywhere, we really had about 700 square feet. I made it my mission to reclaim my home, one box and one square foot at a time. I’ve mentioned before you really just rent everything you own. Stuff is only useful when you’re using it, right? Well, why not have someone else store it for you? I didn’t just haul my DVD collection to the dump. I donated everything to my local library. There, it helps enrich my community, and I can take out my old DVDs anytime I want! The PS4 games got traded in at EB and earned me $50 in store credit. Let’s face it: I’m gonna nerd out and get “No Man’s Sky” on Day 1.

There’s an entire industry preying on people overly attached to their shit. You can tell things are bad when companies like Public Storage don’t even put prices on their website. That’s literally the ONLY reason people are on their site! It also turns out 100 square feet of storage can cost more than $150/month! Why would you have SO MUCH SHIT, you need to pay ADDITIONAL RENT just to store it, unused?

There’s also a problem in having so much shit, you need to hire movers and trucks every time you change residences. I’ve done it, and got billed about $800. That was before this blog started. Now, I insist on doing everything without a moving company. Moving my girlfriend in was easy and only required the help of a friend. We owe him dinner. That’s it.

Having too much shit can even limit your moneymaking opportunities! My mom lives alone in the 5-bedroom townhouse my brother and I grew up in, and is limited in her ability to rent rooms to people because our family crap is everywhere. We’ve even been talking about her moving to the 1-bedroom in Surrey her sister owns so she can rent out the ENTIRE townhouse for $2,000+ per month! What’s stopping her? Our piles and piles of useless shit!

My challenge to you is to throw away one thing a day for at least a month, and not immediately fill the space up again with newer, shinier crap. You’ll actually be objectively richer if you have less stuff! Counterintuitive, I know. THROW OUT ONE THING A DAY FOR A MONTH. You’ll thank me, seriously.

Anything you haven’t worn in six months can go. Any piece of entertainment you haven’t looked at in a year can go. Anything you own a better version of can go.

Hell, with everything you’re tossing out, you might even be able to make a few bucks